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The Terror Web

Lawrence Wright has a superb article in the New Yorker detailing the size and extent of Al Qaeda and related terror networks.

The Internet document suggested that a new intelligence was at work, a rationality not seen in Al Qaeda documents before. The Mujahideen Services Center, whatever that was, appeared to operate as a kind of Islamist think tank. “The person who put together those chapters had a clear strategic vision, realistic and well thought out,” Amirah says. He told Hegghammer, “This is political science applied to jihad.”



Although the document was posted on the Internet in December, 2003, the authors note that a draft had been written in September. In October, assassins shot a Spanish military attaché in Iraq, José Antonio Bernal Gómez, near his residence; in November, seven Spanish intelligence agents were ambushed and murdered south of Baghdad. Photographs of the killers standing on the agents’ bodies circulated on Islamist Web sites. Another Internet document soon appeared, titled “Message to the Spanish People,” signed by the Information Commission for the Help of the Iraqi People (Department of Foreign Propaganda), which threatened more attacks. “Return to your country and live peacefully,” it demands, or else “the battalions of the Iraqi resistance and its supporters outside of Iraq are able to increase the dosage and will eclipse your memory of the rotten spies.”

Variations in the Arabic transcriptions of English words in the “Jihadi Iraq” document suggested to Amirah that writers of various nationalities had drafted it. For instance, in some cases the “T” in Tony Blair’s name was transcribed with the Arabic “ta,” but in the section about Spain the author used the “dha,” which is more typical of the Moroccan dialect. Also characteristic of Morocco is the use of Arabic numerals (the style used in the West) in place of the numbering system that is common from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. Those clues, plus certain particularly Moroccan political concerns expressed in the document, such as the independence movement in Western Sahara, suggested that at least some of the authors were diaspora Moroccans, probably living in Spain.

The link between the Internet document and the bombings soon became clearer. There is a reference early in the document to Abu Dujana, a companion of the Prophet who was known for his ferocity in battle. His name had been invoked by other jihadis, notably in the suicide bombings at the J. W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta in August, 2003. On Saturday evening, a television station in Madrid received a call from a man speaking Spanish with a Moroccan accent, who said that a videotape had been placed in a trash bin near the city’s main mosque. “We declare our responsibility for what has occurred in Madrid, exactly two and a half years after the attacks on New York and Washington,” a masked speaker on the videotape said. He identified himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, “the military spokesman for Al Qaeda in Europe.” He continued, “It is a response to your collaboration with the criminal Bush and his allies. You love life and we love death, which gives an example of what the Prophet Muhammad said. If you don’t stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow.”

Until this tape appeared, even those investigators who were arguing that the train bombings were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists, not eta, had been troubled by the fact that there were no “martyrs” in the attacks. It is a trademark of Al Qaeda to sacrifice its killers; this practice has provided a scanty moral cover for what would otherwise be seen simply as mass murder. But, when the investigators saw that the man calling himself Abu Dujan al-Afghani was dressed in white funeral robes, they realized that suicide was on the horizon.
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“Al Qaeda has four different networks,” Aristegui told me in Madrid, the day after the Socialists took power. “First, there is the original network, the one that committed 9/11, which uses its own resources and people it has recruited and trained. Then, there is the ad-hoc terrorist network, consisting of franchise organizations that Al Qaeda created—often to replace ones that weren’t bloody enough—in countries such as the Philippines, Jordan, and Algeria.” The third network, Aristegui said, is more subtle, “a strategic union of like-minded companies.” Since February, 1998, when Osama bin Laden announced the creation of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews—an umbrella organization for Islamist groups from Morocco to China—Al Qaeda has expanded its dominion by making alliances and offering funds. “Hamas is in, or almost in,” Aristegui said. “Bin Laden is trying to tempt Hezbollah to join, but they are Shia, and many Sunnis are opposed to them.” Finally, there is the fourth network—“imitators, emulators,” who are ideologically aligned with Al Qaeda but are less tied to it financially. “These are the ones who committed Madrid,” Aristegui said.

Until the Madrid attacks, the Al Qaeda operations—in Dhahran, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Aden, New York, Washington, Jerba, Karachi, Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Casablanca, Jakarta, and Istanbul—had been political failures. These massacres committed in the name of jihad had achieved little except anger, grief, and the deaths of thousands. Soon after September 11th, Al Qaeda lost its base in Afghanistan and, along with that, its singular role in the coördination of international terror. New groups, such as the bombers in Madrid, were acting in the name of Al Qaeda, and although they may well have had the blessings of its leaders, they did not have the training, resources, or international contacts that had bolstered the previous generation of terrorists. Some operations, such as the 2003 attack on Western compounds in Riyadh, which killed mainly Muslims, were such fiascos that it appeared that Al Qaeda was no longer able to exercise control.
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Muslim immigration is transforming all of Europe. Nearly twenty million people in the European Union identify themselves as Muslim. This population is disproportionately young, male, and unemployed. The societies these men have left are typically poor, religious, conservative, and dictatorial; the ones they enter are rich, secular, liberal, and free. For many, the exchange is invigorating, but for others Europe becomes a prison of alienation. A Muslim’s experience of immigration can be explained in part by how he views his adopted homeland. Islamic thought broadly divides civilization into dar al-Islam, the land of the believers, and dar al-Kufr, the land of impiety. France, for instance, is a secular country, largely Catholic, but it is now home to five million Muslims. Should it therefore be considered part of the Islamic world? This question is central to the debate about whether Muslims in Europe can integrate into their new communities or must stand apart from them. If France can be considered part of dar al-Islam, then Muslims can form alliances and participate in politics, they should have the right to institute Islamic law, and they can send their children to French schools. If it is a part of dar al-Kufr, then strict Muslims must not only keep their distance; they must fight against their adopted country.

The Internet provides confused young Muslims in Europe with a virtual community. Those who cannot adapt to their new homes discover on the Internet a responsive and compassionate forum. “The Internet stands in for the idea of the ummah, the mythologized Muslim community,” Marc Sageman, the psychiatrist and former C.I.A. officer, said. “The Internet makes this ideal community concrete, because one can interact with it.” He compares this virtual ummah to romantic conceptions of nationhood, which inspire people not only to love their country but to die for it.

“The Internet is the key issue,” Gilles Kepel, a prominent Arabist and a professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques, in Paris, told me recently. “It erases the frontiers between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-Kufr. It allows the propagation of a universal norm, with an Internet Sharia and fatwa system.” Kepel was speaking of the Islamic legal code, which is administered by the clergy. Now one doesn’t have to be in Saudi Arabia or Egypt to live under the rule of Islamic law. “Anyone can seek a ruling from his favorite sheikh in Mecca,” Kepel said. “In the old days, one sought a fatwa from the sheikh who had the best knowledge. Now it is sought from the one with the best Web site.”

To a large extent, Kepel argues, the Internet has replaced the Arabic satellite channels as a conduit of information and communication. “One can say that this war against the West started on television,” he said, “but, for instance, with the decapitation of the poor hostages in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, those images were propagated via Webcams and the Internet. A jihadi subculture has been created that didn’t exist before 9/11.”

Because the Internet is anonymous, Islamist dissidents are less susceptible to government pressure. “There is no signature,” Kepel said. “To some of us who have been trained as classicists, the cyber-world appears very much like the time before Gutenberg. Copyists used to add their own notes into a text, so you never know who was the real author.”

It's a long piece, but well worth reading in its entirety.

Source Common Sense Wonder Weblog

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